On the nature of the human soul, or spirit, as being a spiritual substance and form intended to receive life from God.
My Dear Sir,
I have already endeavoured to prove to you, and this on the authority both of reason and Revelation, that what you call yourself, is a compound, consisting of an immaterial soul and a material body ; and that thus there is a living principle within you distinct from mere matter. Will you now permit me to suggest what, on the same high authority, I conceive this principle to be; and will you promise me neither to start, nor to be offended, when I avow my unfeigned belief that, in opposition to generally conceived opinions, the human soul or spirit, is a spiritual substance and form, intended to receive life from God ?
I am well aware that, on this occasion, I neither adopt the language nor the sentiments of what is in general called the learned world; which world, nevertheless, in its philosophical school, has exerted its utmost subtlety in the investigation and discussion of the subject under consideration. But what, let me ask, has been the result of all its disquisitions ? Are not we told by one school, that the human soul or spirit, is some subtle and active principle like air, or ether, or fire, but of a spiritual nature, and totally destitute of form ? And does not another school inform us, that this subtle and active principle, like air, or ether, or fire, has life in itself, independent of any life which it receives from the Great Author of its being ? Thus, if we are to give credit to the speculations of those who have acquired the distinguished and sacred name of philosophers, we are to believe that there is indeed in us a living principle, but that this principle has neither substance nor form, being only like something of aerial vapour; and that, besides, it was originally gifted by its Creator with independent life, and of course possesses a life of its own, which has the power of willing, of thinking, and of operating, not as a stream indebted continually to a divine source, but as a separate fountain, whose waters originate in itself
But will you allow me to ask, Does this philosophy contain or convey a satisfactory solution of all the difficulties and perplexities connected with an inquiry into the nature of the human soul or spirit ? Or rather, is it not, in the highest degree, both unphilosophical, unsatisfactory, untrue, and unintelligible ? For, what definite idea can we form of an active, shapeless, vapour ? And yet, without an idea, how is it possible to apprehend the true and proper nature, either of such a vapour, or indeed of any thing else ?
Would you, then, rise above the clouds of obscurity and darkness, in which all speculation on the nature of the human soul or spirit has been heretofore involved ? And would you thus feast your intellectual eyes on the discovery of the distinct characteristics of that interior and spiritual part of your constitution, which at once guides, governs, controls, and vivifies the external and material part ? You must then believe, as I before intimated, that the human soul or spirit is both a substance and a form, and that its form also is human ; and that thus it is an organized substance, in itself void indeed of life, but so created, through the Divine mercy, as to be capable of receiving continual influx of life from God, and of exercising that life freely, as if it were its own.
I do not wish you, however, to receive this definition on the ground of any authority of mine, or indeed of any sanction but that of reason and Revelation; and, therefore, if I shall not trespass too much on your time and patience, I will proceed, in as summary a way as possible, to prove to you that both reason and Revelation unite their strong testimony in its favour.
I shall begin with the testimony of reason.
And here let me ask, in the first place, Is it not in agreement with all the speculations and conclusions of the best informed rational minds, that whatsoever has existence must also have substance; and that whatsoever has substance must also have form ? For, how can we conceive of any thing which is unsubstantial, or of any thing substantial which is at the same time void of form ? You will tell me, perhaps, that you fully believe, and this on the evidence of reason, that the human soul or spirit is a substance, but you cannot so clearly see, from the same evidence, that it is a form; neither have you any rational apprehension how an immaterial soul or spirit can have a form, and still less what is the nature of that form. But, allow me to ask, Are not you convinced, by the evidence of your senses, that your body has a form; and is it not reasonable to conclude that this form has been produced, not by the body itself, but by some power superior to the body; or, as it may otherwise be expressed, by some interior power ? Is it not reasonable, therefore, to conclude, that this superior or interior power, which is productive of the material bodily form, has also itself a form; since it is highly credible that there must exist some secret harmony or agreement between every produced effect and its producing cause; by virtue of which harmony or agreement, the produced effect can possess nothing which did not previously exist in its producing cause? To say, then, that the body has a form, and that the soul or spirit from which it is derived has no form, is to ascribe something to an effect which is not in its cause; and thus, in contradiction to all sound reason, to deny the harmony or agreement necessarily subsisting between came and effect. Let me not, however, be understood as asserting that the soul, or producing cause, has precisely the same form with the body, or produced effect, for this is far from my intention. It will be sufficient for my purpose to establish the fact, that the soul or spirit, as being the producing cause of body and its form, must be conceived to possess also itself a form; and further, that if the decision of sound reason be consulted, this form must be human, yet in a state far more perfect than the human form of the body, because in a degree interior, and thus more elevated.
But I perceive that you still find a difficulty in conceiving an idea of the form of the human soul or spirit; will you, however, allow me to point out to you the cause or ground of this difficulty ? Will you allow me, I say, to hint that you have not, heretofore, been sufficiently in the habit of exploring, by rational thought and investigation, the degrees of life in man, and thus how man consists of mere forms for the reception of life; and that one form is more interior than another, but that each exists and subsists from another; also that on the dissolution of an inferior or exterior form, the superior or interior form still lives. Thus, the human will constitutes one form or degree; the understanding another; the memory another; sciences and the senses another; the faculty of speech another ; and the faculty of action another: all of them having a distinct perfection, according to the capacity of receiving life from God, whether proximately or more remotely. To this cause or ground of your difficulty, may also be added another, that you have not, heretofore, been in the habit of reflecting, and of confirming your reflection by rational argument, that there is but one fountain of life, and that is God ; and that all other beings, whether angels, men, or animals, are merely receivers of life; and were created for this high and blessed purpose, that they might receive, and thus enjoy, and by enjoyment make manifest, the goodness, wisdom, power, and beneficence of the Divine Being from whom they momentarily receive life. Let me advise you now to accustom yourself to these reflections, so as to make them familiar to you; and I will then venture to assert, that you will no longer find any difficulty in conceiving an idea of the form of the human soul or spirit. Accustom yourself, I say, to reflect that man, from first principles to last, or from inmost principles of mind to outermost principles of matter, is a complex of forms ; which forms are in such connexion with, and so wonderfully arranged and adapted to, each other, as to be instrumental in effecting the descent of life from one to another; and thus of exhibiting it under all its various modifications of action, joy, and delight. Accordingly, you will find that the human will, which is the first or inmost form, was created to receive and make manifest the life of the Divine love, with all its powers and blessings. The human understanding, again, which is the next interior form, was created to receive and make manifest the life of the Divine wisdom, with all its multiplied beauties, splendors, and energies of truth and gratification. The memory, also, which is a subordinate and more exterior form, was created to be the receptacle or storehouse of all the perceptions, thoughts, and blessednesses communicated to the will and understanding, that so they might be preserved for future use. In like manner, science and the five bodily senses, together with the faculties of speech and of action, are other forms, still more external, but yet accommodated to the reception of the principle of life conveyed through the higher or interior forms; and so accommodated as to became instrumental, not only in effecting man's communication with all the beauties and wonders of outward creation, but in promoting a descent into that creation of the united blessings of the Divine life of love and wisdom, with all their joys. Let me entreat you, I say, to accustom yourself to this view of your own constitution, and of that of every human being, and to confirm it rationally in your own mind; and I will then undertake to say, that you will no longer cherish a moment's doubt respecting the human form of your soul or spirit; and also respecting its possession of a distinct life from that of the body, and of its retention of that life when separated from the body.
But I forget that I am merely writing a letter, and not a treatise on metaphysics, and, therefore, I will no longer intrude on your time and patience than only to hint that, in conceiving of the above several degrees and forms which enter into the composition of your own soul or spirit, you are not to suppose that they differ from each other only in point of purity, or as the parts of the atmosphere differ from each other according to their respective altitudes, but you are rather to conceive that their difference is comparatively like that of different elements, as fire, air, water, &c., which is such as to render those elements distinct from each other, not according to degrees of purity only, but also of essence and vitality. The distinction, therefore, between will and understanding, also between reason, science, and sense, is not a distinction of purity only, since no purity of understanding can ever effect an approximation to will, neither can any purity of sense make any approach to science and reason; but it is a distinction grounded in the distinct capacities of each principle to receive the life which is from God ; the will being capable of receiving the life of love ; the understanding, the life of wisdom ; reason, the life of the confirmation of the supreme excellence of love and wisdom united; whilst science and sense are adapted to the reception and enjoyment of every order and degree of inferior goods and truths. Recollect, then, that you contain within yourself a variety of forms adapted to the reception of life from God, in all its several degrees of excellence and of blessing; and whensoever from henceforth you study the works of your favourite metaphysicians, whether Locke, Hartley, Berkeley, Dugald Stuart, or Reid, never forget this distinguishing perfection of your being, which will at once qualify you not only for supplying what is sadly deficient in their respective theories, but for reading their subtle and ingenious remarks to greater advantage.
Having thus, then, endeavoured to convince you that, in agreement with the testimony of sound and enlightened reason, your soul or spirit is a substance and form created to receive life from God, I shall now proceed to examine the testimony of Revelation, or what the Word of God teaches us to believe on the same important subject.
And first, in regard to the assertion that the human soul or spirit is a substance and form.
On this point, it must be confessed that the sacred oracles do not supply us with any express testimony; because we never find it asserted in direct terms, that the human soul or spirit is either a substance or a form. Nevertheless, what is deficient in express testimony, and in direct terms, is abundantly supplied by implication; in other words, by the meaning involved in a variety of qualities and properties which, in the Word of God throughout, are ascribed to man's soul or spirit. Thus we read perpetually of the soul or spirit praising God, blessing God, waiting on God, trusting in God, speaking unto God, thirsting for God, being joyful in God, &c. (see the Psalms throughout); from all which distinct acts it must be manifest to every reflecting mind, that the soul or spirit of man is a substance, for how else can it be supposed capable of such distinguished energies ? For what shall we say is a substance, but something in which are inherent certain qualities and properties ? If, then, the human soul or spirit possesses the wonderful qualities and properties of praising, of blessing, of waiting on, of trusting in, of speaking to, of thirsting for, and of being joyful in God, &c. &c.,we are compelled, by all propriety of language, to call it a substance; and a substance, too, of a most extraordinary kind, unless we deny to soul and spirit what we grant every day to body and matter. In respect also to the form of this substance, it might be sufficient to assert that, inasmuch as the substance itself is established on the authority of the sacred Scriptures, a form, also, must be established on the same authority; since, as was before observed, it is impossible to conceive an idea of a substance void of form. On this point, however, we are not left for guidance to the uncertainty of metaphysical speculation, because it has pleased the Divine mercy and providence to fix our faith on a sure and more solid basis, and this by the record of a most curious and singular fact, as we find it described in the 28th chapter of the first Book of Samuel. For in this chapter we are informed, that Saul, when he received no answer from the Lord, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets, went to consult a woman who had a familiar spirit, on which occasion the woman asked him, " Whom shall I bring up unto thee And he said, " Bring me up Samuel." Accordingly we read, that Samuel appeared to the woman, and when Saul asked," What form is he of?" She said," An old man cometh up ; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel (Verses 6.15.) From this history, then, we learn that the soul or spirit of Samuel, when it appeared to the above woman, had a form, and that this form, too, was that of an old man, or a human form; by which circumstance every doubt is dissipated respecting the form proper to the soul or spirit of every other human being. For if, according to the testimony of the sacred Scriptures, the soul or spirit of' Samuel, after its separation from the material body, was in a human form, we are sanctioned, by the highest possible authority, in the conclusion, that the soul or spirit of every other human being must also be in a human form; unless it be supposed (what is in the highest degree improbable) that the soul or spirit of Samuel differed, in this respect, from the souls or spirits of all other men.
But the Divine testimony on this interesting subject, we find, is not limited to one solitary fact, since, in the book entitled " The Revelation of St. John, the divine," we are supplied with an additional proof that the proper form of the human soul or spirit is no other than human. For, in this wonderful book we read how the favoured Apostle and Evangelist, when his spiritual eyes were opened to behold the great realities of the eternal world, was attended by an angelic being; and how, on one occasion, when he fell at the feet of this being, with intent to worship him, he was checked in his purpose by these words, " See thou do it not: I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus." (Rev. xix. 10.) From these words, therefore, we learn that this angelic being, who now appeared to John, had formerly been a human being; and that the only difference between his human and angelic state was this, that in the latter he was divested of his material body, and was become a pure spirit; so that when he appeared to the Apostle, he was seen in the form and aspect of a pure spirit; in other words, in the form and aspect which his soul or spirit had during its abode in the body. What eye, then, cannot see that this form or aspect was human, since it is evident, from the repeated testimony of the sacred Scriptures, that whensoever angels or angelic beings have appeared to men, they were always seen in a human form thus, as men, with this only difference, that they were divested of material bodies ? Accordingly, in the gospel according to Mark, the angel who appeared to Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Salome, in the sepulchre, after the Lord's resurrection, is called a man; for it is written, " And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment (Mark xvi. 5.) To the same purport, when the Lord, at His ascension, was taken up into heaven, the two supernatural beings who appeared on the occasion, and announced to the wondering disciples the certainty of their Lord's second advent, are called men; for thus we find it written, " While they looked steadfastly toward heaven, as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven ? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven." (Acts i. 10, 11.) There is every reason then to conclude, from the above testimony, that the angelic form is human; and that, consequently, the form of the soul or spirit of every man who becomes an angel, is also human.
Taking it, therefore, for granted that you are now fully convinced, on the high authority of the sacred Oracles, that the soul or spirit of every man is both a substance and a form ; and also, that this form is human; I shall beg leave to detain you only for a moment longer, whilst I endeavour to prove, from the same high authority, that this human form was originally created to receive life from God ; and that, consequently, it possesses no life in itself but what it receives every instant from the divine fountain of life.
In establishing the truth of this proposition, it may be sufficient to call to your recollection the following memorable circumstance, as you will find it recorded in the original history of man's creation, and as it is thus expressed, " And the Lord God formed man [of] the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life [lives] ; and man became a living soul? (Gen. ii. 7.) For, from this record it is manifest, that man originally derived life from God ; and, therefore, the only question is, whether this life from God was imparted to him as his own, independent of its divine source, or, as his own by virtue of its continual connexion with that Source ? Now, whatsoever doubt or difficulty may occur in deciding on this question from the words of the above record, it vanishes and is totally dissipated, when we consult the bright light presented to our view under the dispensation of the gospel. For, when the Great Saviour said to His disciples, "I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without [severed from] Me ye can do nothing:" (John xv. 5.) and when He declares further, "lam the resurrection and the life (John xi. 25.) and again, "I am the way, the truth, and the life:" (John xiv. 6.) what shall we say is the plain intelligible language of these combined declarations ? Do they not speak, with an authority that cannot be gainsayed, and with a clearness which cannot be disputed, that Jesus Christ, the manifested God, or the God made known and visible in a divine humanity, is the supreme fountain of all life ; and that this life is imparted to mankind, as the life of a vine is imparted to its branches; consequently, as a life derived momentarily from its divine source ? For, what eye cannot see that the branches of a vine, and indeed of every other tree, have in them no life, and can have none, but what they receive perpetually from the parent stock? If, then, the relationship subsisting between God and His creatures be similar to that which subsists between a tree and its branches, (and who can doubt a fact established by so high an authority) then the question respecting the life of man, is set at rest for ever: because we are compelled to call it, not independent life, but life continually derived from another; thus, life which is in perpetual connexion with its divine fountain.
And here allow me to remark, that the above distinction between independent life and derived life, supplies us with a grand characteristic by which to discriminate between the Creator and the creature ; and a characteristic, too, which at once humbles and exalts, abases and ennobles us. For, how plain is it to see, that the proper distinguishing characteristic of the Creator is the possession of independent life, whilst the proper distinguishing characteristic of the creature is the reception of derived life! Jesus Christ, accordingly, in speaking of the Father, or the Eternal Source of all being, describes Him as having life in Himself consequently independent life; and to prove that He Himself, as to His Divine essence, was that Father ; and that this Divine essence was finally to be fully united to His human essence, so that both were to be One ; He adds, " So hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself" (John v. 26.) The interesting conclusion, therefore, is, that there is but one Fountain of life, and that is the Lord God and Saviour Jesus Christ, in His divine humanity ; and that all other beings, whether angels, men, or the inferior animals, are, at their best estate, merely the receivers of life from that Fountain.
Having thus, then, endeavoured to prove to you, and I hope successfully and satisfactorily, that, in agreement with the testimony both of reason and Revelation, your immortal soul or spirit is a substance and form, created to receive life perpetually from God, I should now proceed to point out to you some of the interesting results to be deduced from .the truth of this proposition; but this must be the subject of some future communication. In the mean time believe me to remain, as usual,
Ever yours, &c. &c.